Today’s romance author

Romance in the 21st Century

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I filled two suitcases with clothes, shoes and accessories for every event and possible weather predicament. But for once, I actually had more physical baggage than emotional. I was prepared.

What I wasn’t prepared for — what I couldn’t have possibly imagined when I arranged my outfits by color, style and soiree — was the welcome I would receive and the three lifelong friends I would make.

When I arrived in Hotlanta, I couldn’t imagine managing an entire week alone at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. The annual event is designed for readers, authors and publishers of romance and sub-genres including urban fantasy, erotica, young adult and teen fiction. It was my second RT Convention but my first flying solo.

Atlanta was host city to RT’s 34th convention, with more than 800 authors. The romance storytelling community is significant. RT estimated more than 5,000 people worldwide attended the five-day conference, which included more than 200 workshops, costume parties and social events.

When I arrived, I messaged the group of authors I’m associated with through Hot Tree Publishing, an Australian-based publisher, to tell them I was in the hotel. I was directed to the lobby, where I was hugged by women I’d known only via our private social media page.

I’m still a relative newcomer to Hot Tree Publishing, but I was greeted as if I had always been a company author. It felt like I had found my home in the industry. I gravitated toward three other romance writers in our publishing house: Megan Lowe, Randi Perrin and Genevieve Ryan.

These women became more than profile pictures. We were sounding boards for plot, character and promotional challenges we encounter in our profession. And we laughed at the perception some people have about romance and romance authors.

“I’ve had someone ask me if the sex scenes in my books were based on personal experience and could I give him lessons,” Lowe said.

“I think the one that gets me is that people know I’m the least romantic person in the world, and I am. Legit, my mother said to me, ‘You, who has intimacy issues, writes romance?’ Just because I don’t like to be romantic doesn’t mean I don’t know what is romantic or how to write it,” Perrin said so matter-of-factly, we all laughed.

She added, “Seriously, people hear there is sex in your book, and it has somehow crossed a line into ‘you’re going to hell’ territory. Because they don’t understand the difference between romance and erotica, or erotica and porn.”

“I’ve had people ask if I write romance because I can’t get any in real life,” Ryan said, laughing.

Sex in a romance novel isn’t the main draw for readers. Romance Writers of America cited the top 10 factors for romance novel readers choosing a book. Story, author, price, review and whether the novel was part of a series were the top five. Sex wasn’t anywhere on the list.

Yet one of the biggest misconceptions about romance is that every story is the same and that the only variables are the names, the sexual positions and the half-dressed model on the cover.

RWA estimated that the annual total sales value of romance in 2013 was $1.08 billion. The romance novel share of the U.S. fiction market was 34 percent — so one out of every three fiction books purchased in the U.S. is a romance novel.

Romance buyers have an average income of $55,000, and 35 percent of the readers have been reading romance for more than 20 years. So the cover is important, but ultimately the story is what sells.

Romance in the 21st century isn’t the ‘70s paperbacks sold by the grocery store checkout aisle. Today’s romance authors are college professors, data engineers and marketing representatives – like the three women I met. We were inseparable because we are as diverse as the stories and characters we create.

Mary Billiter

Originally published at

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